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Instituto Nacional de Optica Daza de Valdes

Date: 1948
Address: C. Serrano 121. Madrid View on Maps
Condition: Complete with small alterations
Other: tel. 91 5616800

On the north side of the campus of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Fisac erected the building for the Instituto Nacional de Optica in 1948, an institution created two years earlier and named after the Renaissance scientifist from Córdoba, Benito Daza de Valdés. It filled the space between the buildings of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, thus completing one whole side of the square which is orientated towards the south. However, it is set back in relation to these other buildings because the disparity of alignments and heights between them made any continuity solution in the alignments impossible. On the other hand, the pre-existing volume of the building next to the chapel, restored by Fisac as the headquarters of the Hispano-German Library, made it impossible –with its lateral facade full of large windows- to join the eastern façade to it. He took advantage of both circumstances to respect the formal autonomy of each building and also to create a small area or compass in front of the new institute, which was conceived according to a classical and symmetrical outline with a central door facing the campus and which also seeks a relationship with the adjacent buildings, especially the Rockefeller Institute by Lacasa and Sánchez Arcas. Despite the conservative style of its composition, this work represented in many aspects a willingness to get closer to the then criticized modernity, anticipating the works of this author in the Fifties.

To start with, the access portico has no columns but a concave screen made of granite which is quite low and has a marked horizontal direction. On its surface there are carvings, two sculptural low reliefs which –even though they are on both sides of the central door- are not symmetrical. Thus, the apparent symmetry on the façade hides an asymmetrical plan arranged for reasons of functionality and by an idea of flexibility of the spaces that leads to the placement of a network of installations and illumination along the line of windows and to the construction of continuous paving, in such a way that the partition walls can vary their position without causing big problems, as the space is actually managed by units of “work modules” that correspond to the recesses in the façade. In the interior spaces we can also see an innovative treatment which reminds us of the Nordic architecture of the Thirties and Forties, in the use of natural wood strips and wooden furniture with checkered upholstery, designed by Fisac. He came into contact with it in 1948 on a trip he made to Sweden to study premises for animal experimentation, with the project for the Institute of Biological Research in mind. The discovery of a figure such as Gunnar Asplund, and his visit to see the extension to Göthenborg City Hall, left a profound impression and the conviction that in the organic architecture that was being developed in the north of Europe there were design possibilities which were more adequate for the uses and techniques of the mid 20th century than those in the echoes of different architecture in the Italy of Mussolini.

The most evident expression of this attitude was reflected in the small bar in the Instituto de Optica which provided a relaxing place where the research personnel could talk. Starting with rectangular premises, Fisac designed an enfolding space with curved whitewashed walls and also a curved ceiling covered with plaited hazel shafts, which anticipated a style that nobody had used before in Spain, and which in the following decade, the Fifties, became widespread. The long and curved armchairs, the tables and stools made of ash wood with its natural colour, the bar with a worktop like a plane wing, the nasal shaped fireplace, the lamps giving indirect light made of enamelled panels or the use of natural plants configure an atmosphere with great formal unity that brings together the legacies of modernism and surrealism, and filters them through the sieve of the rural world to create a new style, which is warm, luminous and carefree, and which the architect would develop in many of his subsequent works, especially those located in agricultural settings.


© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber

© Fundación Fisac



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